Looking good

You've undoubtedly seen examples of poorly designed user interfaces, diffi-cult-to-use programs, and just plain ugly screens. If you develop spreadsheets for other people, you should pay particular attention to how the application looks.

The way a computer program looks can make all the difference in the world to users. And so it goes with the applications you develop with Excel. End users appreciate a good-looking user interface. You can give your applications a much more polished and professional look if you devote some time to design and aesthetics.

Evaluating aesthetic qualities is very subjective. When in doubt, keep your worksheets simple and generic with these tips:

i Strive for consistency. This includes fonts, text sizes, and formatting. When designing custom dialog boxes, for example, try to emulate the look and feel of the Excel dialog boxes as much as possible.

i Avoid the gaudy. Just because Excel lets you work with 56 colors doesn't mean that you have to use them all. In general, use only a few colors and no more than two fonts. Better yet, stick to a single font and use bold formatting or larger font sizes for variation.

i Keep it simple. Developers often make the mistake of trying to cram too much information into a single screen or dialog box. Present only one or two chunks of information at a time.

i Think modular. Make it easy for the user to figure out what's what. For example, you can separate different parts of a worksheet by using background colors or borders.

i Give users what they expect. For example, most applications have a File menu. If you name your File menu something else, it can be confusing to users. Think about how programs that you use are consistent, not only internally, but with other programs.

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